Citroen C5 2001 Range Road Test

Tue, 27 Mar 2001

At last we have some distinctive shapes among upper-medium family cars. The 'top hatted' VW Passat started the trend, the handsome, clean-cut new Ford Mondeo followed, hotly pursued by the stylish, elegant Renault Laguna II. Now, to replace the Xantia, we have the Citröen C5. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The C5 has beaten Peugeot to the PSA group's new 'platform 3'. A conventionally suspended 406 replacement will follow. But the C5 remains faithful to Citröen's unique hydraulic suspension, the latest incarnation of which is christened 'Hydractive 3'. One of the new benefits is automatic ride-height adjustment depending on vehicle speed and road surface, so at speeds of more than 68mph on well surfaced roads, the car lowers itself by 15mm at the front and 11mm at the back. On the other hand, if it encounters a poorly surfaced road, and the car is travelling at less than 44mph, ride height is automatically raised by 13mm. A further advantage of the estate car version (due later) is a switch in the loadspace which enables the driver to lower the rear of the car for easier loading.

On models from the 2.0i up the system can be set to 'comfort' or 'sport'. But whichever the driver chooses, a third sphere between each pair of wheels also helps control roll, providing the car with relatively flat cornering. Hydractive 3 suspension needs no servicing for five years and, as a result, in comparison to the Xantia, a 1.8 16v C5 works out 39 per cent cheaper to service over 100,000 miles.

The other technical advances are a low-emission direct-injected 'HPi' petrol engine with twin catalytic converters and an oxygen sensor placed, unusually, after the second cat. And a new 2.2 litre common rail direct-injected 2.2 litre 'HDi' diesel, with twin balancer shafts, a variable geometry turbo and a particulate filter. This engine, incidentally, is now also available in the current-model Peugeot 406.

Further innovations include PSA/Renault's new AL4 and ZF's new 4HP20 automatic gearboxes. Both allow manual override by the driver by moving the lever forward for upshifts and back for downshifts in the illogical manner established by German Tiptronic systems.

All models have ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (ABD) which increases the force on the brakes when the driver needs to stop quickly and also warns drivers behind with a flash of the car's hazard lights.

Through the range, equipment levels are high, with Trafficmaster Oracle, air-conditioning, pollen filter, five three-point seatbelts, front and side airbags and an audible speed warning in all models. All are also fitted with a Thatcham-developed security system, together with a radio that cannot be used in any other car and an odometer which cannot be clocked.

So what are the cars like to drive?

I have to confess pro-Citröen bias here because I have always liked the way ZXs, Xsaras and Xantias handle, with more grip at the front and less understeer than is usual for a front-wheel-drive car.

At first, the £16,050 2.0 HDi 110 LX, which lacks the balls (I mean spheres) of more expensive models felt what can only be described as "lollopy". It took quite a bit if getting used to and it's more of an understeerer than the Xantia ever was. On the plus side, you do get that Citröen 'magic carpet ride', which absorbed the bumps and potholes of rural Leicestershire lanes. But turn into a bend and you feel the whole car rising and leaning into the corner, a bit like a boat. You soon get used to this, however, and pretty soon you can hustle the thing along at a fair old pace without upsetting Auntie Mabel snoozing away in the back seat.

The £14,580 1.8i16v petrol LX, also lacking a centre pair of balls, felt a lot more agile, probably because its engine is much lighter. It's a decent enough repmobile, performance on a par with the competition, with the huge advantage of its excellent ride on poorly-maintained roads, which we're likely to see a lot more of once Labour gets itself re-elected. The 1.8i 16v also qualifies for lower-rate £140pa VED.

In stark contrast, the £16,095 2.0i 16v has the extra balls, both between its wheels and under the bonnet, to make it actually feel sporty. This one corners much flatter and can be taken liberties with, yet still has the fine ride quality of its lesser brethren. Definitely the enthusiast's choice.

The £18,690 2.2HDi I tried proved to be a disappointment. If this particular car had 136 brake horsepower, then some of the horses were asleep. They may well wake up once the engine is run in, but the example I drove actually felt slower than the 2.0HDI which is supposed to lack 26 bhp and 49 lb ft torque. However, because it does have extra balls between the wheels, it handled much better than the 2.0HDI. I'm convinced I got a bad one, but I'll have to reserve judgement on the 2.2HDI, especially at the prices they're asking for it (up to an incredible £23,890).

Lastly, the 3.0iV6 Exclusive SE automatic. I liked this. It had plenty of guts, the 4HP20 automatic gearbox worked beautifully, it handled well even though it was a bit softer than the 2.0i 16v, and it was extremely comfortable. The new gearbox gives the driver the option of overriding changes manually. Move the lever forward, like a Tiptronic, and it changes up. Move it back, like a Tiptronic, and it changes down. But if you take control, it's best to downshift manually and leave the box to shift up by itself, in which case it changes from 2nd to 3rd at 75mph and 3rd to 4th at 110mph. My real problem with it is that, at £23,500, the Exclusive SE is getting awfully close to what an Audi A4 3.0V6 Multitronic would be if Audi were to sell it in the UK. With more power, better quality, greater exclusivity and six rather than four speeds, the A4 thrashes the C5. If you want a plush, quick, comfortable automatic, the £20,200 3.0 V6 Exclusive is far better value against the competition.

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